Twelve-year-old Jasmine Lassiter said kids used to make fun of her hair. Now, thanks to an organization called Her Natural Wreath, classmates admire her beautiful braids.
That’s the kind of news Rachel Eloy, the organization’s founder, likes to hear.
Eloy, a third-year University of Florida student, was volunteering at the Child Advocacy Center in 2021 when she noticed that many young girls had unmanaged hair. She said she recalled how as a young girl having her hair done to go to school was always important. So Eloy, who studies behavioral and cognitive neuroscience and women’s studies, decided to do something about it.
In May, she launched Her Natural Wreath, a Gainesville nonprofit organization that offers free braiding services to girls ages 3 to 17.
Eloy said the mission statement for Her Natural Wreath is to empower young girls in Gainesville by building their self-confidence. The nonprofit accomplishes this by ensuring that girls feel their hair is a beautiful part of their outward appearance that expresses their inner beauty.
The type of hairstyles the group offers are faux locs, passion twists, feed-ins and cornrows. It takes approximately two to three hours to braid a girl’s hair — including a hair wash — all for free.
Eloy volunteers at the Child Advocacy Center, where she said she was inspired to create this nonprofit that benefits young Black girls. She said Rebecca Underhill, a volunteer coordinator at the Child Advocacy Center, offered Eloy advice on how to get the nonprofit started.
“Rachel (Eloy) did all of it on her own, bringing her ideas to me, and we supported her throughout the whole thing,” Underhill said. “We posted flyers all over the Child Advocacy Center supporting Rachel’s nonprofit organization.”
As Eloy started up Her Natural Wreath, she also received support from people throughout the Gainesville community. The owner of Archer Beauty Supply donated over $450 in beauty supply products for Eloy’s back-to-school event in August.
Two local hair salons, Locs by Dee and Jessica at Hairport, offered Eloy and her volunteers the use of their salons and resources inside the salon for Her Natural Wreath.
Heidi Monty, who takes her daughter to Her Natural Wreath, said Eloy gains the trust of the children.
“I heard about this hair service through the Child Advocacy Center,” said Monty. “I do not have experience with braiding hair, so I decided to bring my daughter here, and I will surely be bringing her back again.”
Eloy said she reached out to a few friends in her service club at UF in hopes of getting them to come out and volunteer at the Her Natural Wreath event.
Imani Sanchez, a second-year political science and international studies student at UF, is a member of Eloy’s service club. She volunteered with Her Natural Wreath for the first time recently and said she will be going back again.
“Coming to college, it was always a big thing for me to help the Gainesville community, especially the Black community,” said Sanchez. “It means a lot to me to help young Black girls with their hair as I could relate to them as a Black woman.”
Lauren Vendryes, another UF student and first-time volunteer, also said she would be returning to help at Her Natural Wreath.
“I helped braid five girls’ hair that day with set rotations with the other volunteers,” said Vendryes. “It was a great experience; I appreciated and enjoyed working with the kids.”
Her Natural Wreath provides hair service to an average of five to 15 girls monthly. Jasmine, a sixth grader, has had her hair braided several times since the program was created.
“People have called me names at school and have made fun of my hair,” said Jasmine. “It feels nice to get my hair done.”
Eloy’s goal for Her Natural Wreath is to recruit more volunteers so she can offer salon services more frequently. She said she would like to make services available twice a week with about 10 to 15 volunteers at every event.
Her Natural Wreath services are currently offered once a month. The next service will take place on Nov. 6 at Locs by Dee, 4040 W. Newberry Road, Unit 1300. Eloy said she is looking for more women in the Gainesville community who can help support the continuation of Her Natural Wreath.
“Her Natural Wreath reminds us that hair is beautiful with or without hair extensions,” said Eloy.
“It feels nice to receive compliments about my hair at school,” said Jasmine
Eloy said that positive feeling can grow into something deeper. “Black culture, Black excellence, Black beauty,” she said.